I am currently reading Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. He makes the statement again and again that science is based on proven evidence and science only accepts what can be proven. The book is part rant against pseudoscience and part defense of scientism. I’m reading along and being reminded ad infinitum about how important it is to only believe what is absolutely provable through scientific experiment when he makes this whopper of a claim:
Humans, like other primates, are a gregarious lot. We enjoy one another’s company. We’re mammals, and parental care of the young is essential for the continuance of the hereditary lines. The parent smiles at the child, the child smiles back, and a bond is forged or strengthened. As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin (45).
The point he’s making is that people like to recognise faces which is why they find them on the moon, Mars, etc. What he’s saying is that natural selection ensured that a million years ago non-smiling babies were left to die by parents who preferred smiling babies. Perhaps someone could explain how we know that a million years ago this happened. All we can scientifically prove is that babies today smile when they see a familiar face (assuming they aren’t hungry, tired, have a dirty diaper, etc.). My point – Sagan talks a lot about relying on the scientific method but then makes claims about what happened a million years ago that have no basis in provable scientific “facts.” Call me a radical skeptic but this seems to be pseudoscience just as much as making claims about life on Mars. Do you agree?